The Sporting player who was shot in the head and lived to tell the story

07/18/2014 6:59 PM

07/19/2014 7:20 PM

The 28-year-old husband and father turns around, pulls his jersey to the side and shows you a scar the size of a quarter. This is where the first bullet ripped through the skin and lodged next to his shoulder blade. Now, Jorge Claros points to his head. His index finger goes to the back of his skull.

This is where the second bullet hit him, millimeters from his brain and death.

More than 90 percent of people shot in the head die. Most of them don’t make it to the hospital, or even an ambulance. Doctors have called Claros’ survival a miracle. They’ll need a new word for how he continued to play professional soccer, now with Sporting Kansas City.

Claros doesn’t have an answer for why he was spared that day three years ago during an apparent robbery attempt in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. His wife, Elsa, was in the car when the bullets ripped through his body. She was terrified. He stuck a finger into a hole in his head. Blood poured over his face.

Somehow, he did not panic. Not at first, anyway. He drove them both to the hospital, parked the car, walked in and saw the shock on the faces looking back at him. Men just don’t walk into hospitals with bullets in their heads, even in the most violent city in a country with the highest murder rate in the world.

Claros, who played for his native country in the World Cup and joined Sporting KC this week, tells this story with a chilling calmness. Some of that is because his teammates and strangers ask about it so often, and some of it is that growing up in Honduras means growing up around gun violence.

“This is proof that God exists,” he says through a translator. “I know I am very lucky.”

Being shot in the head doesn’t feel the way you might think. Or it didn’t for Claros, at least. There was less panic than clarity, somehow. Part of him probably always knew this was possible.

About 20 people are murdered every day in the small Central American country. By population, Honduras’ murder rate is nearly twice as bad as any other country and nearly 20 times worse than the United States. San Pedro Sula, Honduras’ second city, is rife with drug trafficking and unregistered guns. In recent years, it regularly ranks among the most dangerous cities in the world.

Claros was driving a new car. He’s sure that’s why the gunmen came after him. Even a Chevrolet can be an invitation for criminals in that country. He pulled into a gas station, and saw two men with guns come after him. He peeled out, and then heard the shots. Boom, boom, boom. One bullet shattered a window in the car. He felt it burn in his left shoulder. He kept his eyes straight ahead.

Then the second bullet came, first hitting the seat behind him and then ricocheting into his skull.

Claros put one hand on the steering wheel, the other on his head trying to stop the blood. Next to him, his wife screamed. In that moment, Claros didn’t feel much. Later, he will say he thought more about playing again than living. He thought about what his mother would say.

The human body can do amazing things. Adrenaline is a powerful survival tool. Claros felt both bullets hit, but didn’t feel as much pain after the impact. Half his body went numb. Maybe that’s why he could concentrate. The story of holding your hand over a bleeding bullet wound in your head while steering toward the hospital sounds like a movie scene. But in that moment, for Claros, it felt like the only thing that mattered.

Claros went straight into surgery. Doctors removed both bullets. He could not have been luckier. The bullet in his shoulder didn’t even break a bone. The next day, his doctor told Honduran media that Claros would play again within three weeks. He would return from a gunshot to the head quicker than some guys recover from an oblique strain.

Even more incredible is that his doctor turned out to be right. Claros returned to Motagua, the top pro team in Honduras, less than a month after being shot in the head. Less than a year later, he was with a pro team in Scotland.

There have been no lingering effects of the bullet wounds. Claros still plays with the same tenacity he always had, the fierce, never-back-down attitude that had Honduran reporters calling him “The Pitbull” long before the shooting.

In that way, he is a perfect fit for Sporting and coach Peter Vermes. Claros is a good defensive midfielder who fits an obvious need for an aggressive club that recently sold Uri Rosell to a team in Portugal last month.

Claros only started training with Sporting on Friday, so there is no telling when he’ll be able to play and contribute. His familiarity with soccer in the Americas can only help when the club starts CONCACAF Champions League play next month. Vermes has wanted Claros for his club for more than a year, so maybe this is a match that can last.

You know, we haven’t even mentioned the most amazing part of this story.

After the gun shot and the drive to the hospital and the surgery to remove the bullets, one of Claros’ first games was in the Champions League, in the United States. Against the LA Galaxy. His wife couldn’t make the game, so she had to call him with the news.

She was pregnant.

Almost two months. They had no way of knowing she was pregnant the night he nearly died.

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365 or send email to smellinger@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter at @mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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